The former head of catastrophic injury at a Liverpool law firm has been fined £1,600 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for forwarding a “highly derogatory and grossly offensive” email to a colleague.
The SRA said Paul Kenneth Breen “was not the author of the email and did not expressly endorse the content, although he forwarded it without condemnation”.
The colleague did not share the email with anyone else at Cassell Moore Law.
The regulator said the email was offensive towards “women and persons of a particular religious group”.
Mr Breen, a non-solicitor who is currently a partner and head of catastrophic injury at JMW in Manchester, admitted that by “inappropriately forwarding the offensive email onto a colleague, he failed to carry out his role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity, in breach of Principle 9 of the SRA Principles 2011”.
Mr Breen said in mitigation that “the views communicated in the email are not reflective of his true character and belief”, he had “expressed remorse and is deeply ashamed of what was said in the email” and “the behaviour will not be repeated”.
The SRA said a fine was appropriate because the misconduct had “potential to cause serious harm” and “there was a reckless disregard of risk of harm”.
Unusually, the SRA detailed the considerations that went into reaching the level of fine, referencing its enforcement policy.
On the size of the fine, the SRA said the nature of the misconduct was low because Mr Breen co-operated with the investigation, it was not continued and there was no pattern of misconduct. According to the SRA’s guidance this amounted to a score of one.
The impact was described as “medium” and was scored at four.
With a total score of five, the SRA said Mr Breen’s misconduct fell into the “broad penalty bracket” of £1,000 to £5,000.
The most the SRA can sanction people working at traditional law firms is £2,000 (it is £50m for those at alternative business structures). Were the SRA to decide that a higher fine were necessary, it would have to refer the case to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
The SRA said it had taken Mr Breen’s mitigation into account in deciding the level of fine.
“The SRA has also considered that the email was exchanged internally and not released to others, nor released in the public domain, the content was not endorsed or commented upon and, there is no evidence of a repetition of the misconduct.
“The SRA has also considered that Paul Kenneth Breen had a clear regulatory history, as well as the mitigation and insight he has demonstrated.”
In the event, the SRA reduced his “basic penalty” of £2,000 to £1,600 because he admitted the misconduct “within six weeks of the issue coming to his attention”.
Mr Breen agreed to pay costs of £600.